Open Access Study protocol

Standard versus prosocial online support groups for distressed breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial

Stephen J Lepore1*, Joanne S Buzaglo2, Morton A Lieberman3, Mitch Golant2 and Adam Davey1

Author Affiliations

1 Temple University, Department of Public Health, 1301 Cecil B. Moore Ave., 9th Floor Ritter Annex, Philadelphia, PA, 19122, USA

2 Cancer Support Community, Research & Training Institute, 4100 Chamounix Drive, Philadelphia, PA, 19131, USA

3 University of California San Francisco, 1104 Western Ave, Mill Valley, Ca. 94941, USA

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:379  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-379

Published: 25 August 2011



The Internet can increase access to psychosocial care for breast cancer survivors through online support groups. This study will test a novel prosocial online group that emphasizes both opportunities for getting and giving help. Based on the helper therapy principle, it is hypothesized that the addition of structured helping opportunities and coaching on how to help others online will increase the psychological benefits of a standard online group.


A two-armed randomized controlled trial with pretest and posttest. Non-metastatic breast cancer survivors with elevated psychological distress will be randomized to either a standard facilitated online group or to a prosocial facilitated online group, which combines online exchanges of support with structured helping opportunities (blogging, breast cancer outreach) and coaching on how best to give support to others. Validated and reliable measures will be administered to women approximately one month before and after the interventions. Self-esteem, positive affect, and sense of belonging will be tested as potential mediators of the primary outcomes of depressive/anxious symptoms and sense of purpose in life.


This study will test an innovative approach to maximizing the psychological benefits of cancer online support groups. The theory-based prosocial online support group intervention model is sustainable, because it can be implemented by private non-profit or other organizations, such as cancer centers, which mostly offer face-to-face support groups with limited patient reach.

Trial Registration NCT01396174